Every day, for the past few years, my morning walk has also included a short detour to the recycling bins where I would deposit reading material as well as plastic disposal from the previous day in their respective containers. What started as a one-time endeavor to get rid of all the magazines I had accumulated for the past few weeks slowly turned into a habit.
The daily accounting of all the recyclable waste we were producing was also a good way to limit consumption of food stuffs that were often packaged in single use plastic containers. It is easy to lose sight of just how much plastic we ‘consume’ when we throw all the packaging out along with the normal trash. But, when you have to separate it every day, there is no easy way to not feel disgusted.
Last week, the city of Amsterdam started phasing out the plastic recycling containers throughout the city; the reasoning being that people are generally not good with separating what could be recycled from what couldn’t. For example, a lot of people that even I ran into regularly didn’t realize that milk containers are not paper; they actually go in with the plastic. Similarly, a lot of plastic packaging, especially that with liquid food stuff inside cannot be recycled easily and needs to be thoroughly washed before it is mixed in with the other plastic. Not doing so often leads to entire batches of recyclables having to be burned with the rest of the trash from the city.
The city apparently has invested in machines that could perform the task of separating and washing plastics much better than ordinary people, and so the new recommendation now calls for everyone to just throw out the plastic along with their regular everyday trash.
My morning trips now just include tossing the newspaper into the paper recycling bin.
While this daily habit has pushed me towards using less plastic, I fear that for a lot of people, the new lack of plastic recycling bins might be a reason to forget about the tremendous impact that plastic has upon our planet’s sustenance. We often take action when we are impacted personally by something; it’s easy to fall back to bad habits.
I wonder if the right approach would have been to keep the containers, doubling down upon messaging to people that they need to do a better job at separating their plastic from other types of refuse, and using the new machines as a backup on both the regular trash as well as the plastic coming in from the familiar orange containers.
We need every little nudge possible to force us to get rid of single-use plastic packaging from our lives.